The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Filed under: Book Reviews,Infinite TBR,Reader of the Stack Goes Canonical — Ibis at 7:41 pm on Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From the publisher:
“Visiting an idyllic German village, Werther, a sensitive young man, falls in love with sweet-natured Lotte. Though he realizes that Lotte is to marry Albert, he is unable to subdue his passion and his infatuation torments him to the point of despair. The first great ‘confessional’ novel, it draws both on Goethe’s own unrequited love for Charlotte Buff and on the death of a close friend. The book was an immediate success and a cult rapidly grew up around it, resulting in numerous copycat deaths as well as violent criticism and suppression for its apparent support of suicide. Goethe’s exploration of the mind of an artist at odds with society and ill-equipped to cope with life remains as poignant as when it was first written.”

My thoughts:
This little novella looms large over the nineteenth century, so I was keen to experience it for myself. I knew in advance that young Werther ends his own life over a star-crossed love and that his action inspired real life copycat suicides. I also knew he was held up as a kind of Romantic (note the capped ‘R’) ideal, with Sensitivity and Passion and a love of Nature. I thought it was kind of interesting in a historical sort of way, but it was difficult for me to quite take it seriously—to be so in love as to decide that life is no longer worth living? It’s just so over the top. Is that because we just don’t feel that strongly anymore? Perhaps this kind of situation is like a kind of religious fervour. As if falling in love like this was expected so that’s what he did? But then Goethe himself shook it off and went on with his life, so it’s hard to say. Throughout, I just wanted Charlotte, Werther, and Albert to throw off restraint and go for a nice, accommodating, polyamourous relationship. Am I a twenty-first century girl or what?

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